FERMANAGH and Omagh District Council has been accused of “stealing business” from local sports shops after it opened a new retail outlet in Omagh Leisure Complex.
The store, which sells swimwear products, is located inside the council-run facility and opened earlier this month.
The council said it launched the facility “in response to feeback from leisure complex users.”
However, two independent sports shops in Omagh have reacted with fury to the move.
In a week when the town centre lost another business in the form of Thomas Cook, they said the council should be protecting local traders instead of “competing” with them.
Marty Woodhead from Active 2 sports shop has described the move as a “slap in the face.”
“You pay £10,000 in rates each year to fund a non-profit organisation such as Omagh Leisure Centre and the council re-pays you by stealing your local business,” he fumed.
“Business is tough enough as it is. I have been selling sports and leisure gear in the town for 30 years and I have never seen it as bad as things are now. We need support, not opposition.”
Catherine Taggart from Lakeland Leisure sports shop in the town also expressed her dismay, describing it as an “unfair playing field.”
She continued, “I am disappointed to see the council are not supporting local traders and has set up in opposition to us. We pay our rates and get nothing for it.
“Are they also going to start selling football boots or trainers as well? Where will it end?”
Mr Woodhead said he has received “great support” from fellow traders and his customers.
He has raised the matter with Omagh Town councillor Barry McElduff, who says he is “uncomfortable” that the council could compete commercially with local ratepayers.
“This raises an ethical issue that the council could be in competition with a ratepayer.
“I believe the anger and concern by local businesses is merited,” said Cllr McElduff.
“As a councillor I am very uncomfortable with this and have made contact with senior officers within the council.”
Cllr McElduff added that he intends to raise the issue at the monthly council meeting next Tuesday evening.
A spokesperson for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said the purpose of the shop is to be of convenience to those customers who may have forgotten kit.
The spokesperson said, “Feedback from Omagh Leisure Complex customers showed that there was a demand for a retail area within the complex where customers could purchase an item of clothing or equipment if they had arrived at the complex without some items of their kit.
“Based on this feedback and following an open tender process, a new retail area selling a selection of leisure wear and equipment – targeted at customers who arrive at the centre without some items of kit – opened at Omagh Leisure Complex recently.
“Expression of Interests were sought from four suppliers, some of whom had previously supplied OLC with stock items such as goggles, arm-bands etc. Omagh Leisure Complex is selling the goods, which are obtained on a consignment basis from the supplier.”
The supplier which won the tender to supply the goods to the leisure complex is based in Scotland.
President of Omagh Chamber of Commerce, Colm Broderick, stated he is “sympathetic” to the position of the town centre leisure retailers and expressed his hope the tendering process could be opened up in the future so these goods can be sourced locally.